Motivational speaker and writer Andy Andrews told the story of how his wife treated her dog better than she treated him. He asked her about it and she said, "Well, I’ve known him longer." But Andy watched their interactions and began to realize that when she came home, even if she’d only been gone an hour, the dog acted as though the sun had come out after years of rain. He’d come running, no matter what he’d been doing, and he wouldn’t just wag his tail. He wagged his whole body. In the meantime, Andy looked up from his computer to say, "Hi, Hon," and wave.
So he started treating his wife more like her dog treated her, and she began to treat him more like she treated her dog.
I remembered my dog Skippy running to greet me in just that way, or I imagined Andy’s wife’s dog greeting her the way Skippy greeted me. My memory filled in the details from Andy’s sketchy story. If Skippy had been left inside the house all day, she would still greet every member of the family with at least a sniff when we came home from a trip, before speeding outside to do her business. Then she came back in to greet us properly with yelps and full-body wags. How could we, I, not feel loved?
And she loved me, us, without expectation. She didn’t wish we had more money or that we gave her more dog toys. When she wanted something from us, she gave us more love, not less.
Thinking about Skippy and Andy’s story, I was reminded of something Oprah’s friend, Maya Angelou, said: "Your eyes should light up when your child enters the room." So often this doesn’t happen, yet the truth of how parents feel about their children is literally that they are the light of their lives. They get so caught up in the details of living and raising their children that the light those children bring to the parent’s life gets submerged.
Scouring my life, I could only find one time, besides Skippy, when someone’s eyes lit up when they saw me coming. I was assistant manager at a bookstore in a mall. I came to work one day and through the plate glass door I saw one of the employees inside vacuuming the carpet (one of those unsung duties in retail). I was lowering my eyes to unlock the door just as he looked up and caught sight of me and I actually saw the light of joy in seeing me blaze up in his eyes. It shocked me and I pretended not to see as I fussed with the lock. When I looked up again, his face was back to normal as he strode to the door to unlock it from inside.
Later, when a personal relationship began to develop between us, it was the look in his eyes just then that I trusted and it was why I let myself fall in love with him. And I still believe it was trustworthy. What was not so trustworthy was our combined wisdom level of about 3, possibly 4, on a scale of 20. There was just too much "stuff" brought to the relationship by each of us. Yet, for that moment, it was pure, like the love of a dog.
I’ve been wondering what life would be like if the people who make our hearts sing (romantically, parentally or simply by being) could see that in our eyes. If we could live in the world with the honesty of a dog. If we translate that into human terms, it means a level of vulnerability that most of us cannot imagine. It has me shaking in my shoes as I sit here thinking about it. A dog doesn’t pretend to like someone she doesn’t like. If a dog is afraid or confused or ashamed, you know it. I, on the other hand, am highly selective about with whom I share my fear, confusion or shame.
Yet, every now and then, I’ve run across people who do live with an emotional honesty that leaves me breathless. When I was younger, I avoided them, even denigrated them. But now I find that they, by their example, call me to account. They inspire me with the beauty of the way they live in the world. I see that as long as I am unwilling to be as honest in my dealings with the world as they are, as dogs are, I am cultivating dark places inside myself. I am keeping myself prisoner. As long as I keep from others the depth of my love for them, I am shutting myself off from receiving from another human the kind of love I accept so gratefully from my dog.